October 27, 2006


I honestly cannot remember the last time we bought a bottle of salad dressing. It’s gotten to the point that I can't help but cringe when we are eating at somebody else’s house and they bring out a bottled dressing. Rude, I know. But at least I try to hide or disguise my inappropriate behavior.

I make 3 or 4 vinaigrettes that are far superior to anything you’ll buy in a grocery store and, not surprisingly, easy to make. But making a good vinaigrette, as is the case with most things culinary, requires good ingredients.

That’s why we always have a good bottle of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and sherry vinegar. I have yet to invest a lot of money in a red-wine vinegar, and, to be honest, I’m not even sure if there is such a thing as a high-quality red wine vinegar, at least not one worth $10-15 a bottle. Although I'm sure there's somebody out there who can/will prove me wrong.

The vinaigrette recipes below are all very similar. All call for fresh herbs, if you have them. Otherwise, a little less of a dried herb will work fine. Some vinaigrette recipes call for garlic, but I don’t think it’s needed.

And, as a bonus, by a fortuitous coincidence, Mark Bittman this week has some recipes for a blue-cheese dressing, ranch dressing, and a miso-carrot dressing with ginger. I expect to try to the blue-cheese dressing quite soon. [Subscription may be required; it’s free and easy.]

Balsamic vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped oregano
  • Splash of honey
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Combine the vinegar, mustard, oregano, honey, salt and pepper in a bowl, mix well. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and briskly mix with a whisk. Drizzle over top of prepared salad and toss well.

Note: This dressing goes very well with salads topped with blue cheese. And, as always, when I mention blue cheese, I must advise that, if you see Maytag brand blue cheese in the grocery store, buy it! You will be ruined on other blue cheeses forever more, but that’s the price of eating well.

Sherry vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
  • ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped thyme or tarragon
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, thyme, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and briskly mix with a whisk. Drizzle over top of prepared salad and toss well.

Note: We’re fond of putting a little cheese on our salads. This vinaigrette goes well with a fontina cheese, so make this for a salad the same week you make a frittata topped with fontina.

Red-wine vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon of chopped rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of finely diced shallot
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, rosemary, shallot, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and briskly mix with a whisk. Drizzle over top of prepared salad and toss well.

October 15, 2006

Your new favorite chili

Everyone has a chili recipe. Some I’m sure are quite good. Others, maybe not so much (and yet some people continue to make it anyway). The chili we make in our household has evolved over time. It’s been tweaked here and there. Seems like we always have to make substitutions because we thought we had an ingredient in the fridge or cupboard but didn’t (and typically we’re too lazy to run to the grocery store to pick it up).

The chili my wife made the other day was excellent and incorporated a few different chile powders I’ve picked up at the grocery store, two different kinds of beans, and two different kinds of peppers—including my most recent favorite, poblano.

This is definitely one of those recipes, though, where guesstimations are involved. So taste, taste, and taste again as you go along. The end product will be well worth it.

Finallly, this is a good Sunday recipe, because should have leftovers for your Monday meal.

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, roasted, cored, and diced
  • 1 vidalia onion, chopped
  • 1 package of mushrooms (whatever you like best, we used sliced baby bellas this time)
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can of whole (peeled) tomatoes, crushed by hand in a bowl
  • 2 tbs of brown sugar
  • 1 bottle of beer
  • 1/2 tbs of chipotle chili powder
  • 1 tbs of ancho chili powder
  • 1 tbs of standard chili powder
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • 2 tbs of cilantro, finely chopped
  • Sour cream

Brown the ground beef with the onion and red pepper in a large pot over medium heat. When the beef is brown, stir in the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes.

Add the chile powders and brown sugar and stir until well blended. Then add the beans, crushed tomatoes, and roasted poblanos and stir until well blended. Add the beer, stir, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook for at least 20-30 minutes.

At this point, take a taste. You want a hint of sweet, but not too sweet. This is intended to be fairly spicy, so take that into consideration when adding the chili powders. If you want a little more heat after tasting, add a teaspoon more of some chipotle or even some of your favorite hot sauce. Taste again and tweak as needed.

When the chili is where you like it, put some in a bowl, top with some diced avocado, a sprinkling of cilantro, and a small dollop of sour cream.

October 3, 2006

Random food and drink stuff

A few things worth noting, but no single thing particularly worthy of a longer post.

First, a guacamole update...

Although I think the guacamole recipe I posted not too long ago is pretty much unassailable, I made a tomatillo-poblano guacamole the other day that was fairly successful. Although it was not an improvement upon the original recipe, the roasted poblanos were fantastic.

The poblano’s flavor is richer and smokier than a jalapeno. It doesn’t have the same kick, which may make it a more attractive option to those who, for reasons I cannot possibly fathom, “don’t like spicy food.”

So if a poblano sounds appealing, here’s what you do. Proceed with the recipe sans jalapeno. Turn your gas burner on med-high and, using tongs, hold the poblano over the flame until all sides have a nice black char on them.

Then wrap the poblano in some cling wrap for about five minutes. Remove from the wrap and, using a knife, scrape off the black coating. Cut off the top of the pepper and throw out the big clump of seeds. Dice the poblano and add it to the mixture after you’ve mashed up the avocado a little and are ready to put in the lime juice.

If you don’t have a gas burner, put the oven on broil and roast the poblano for about 3 or 4 minutes to get the outside charred.

Second, a seasonal beer recommendation...

If you have a beer distributor/store near you that carries a hefty assortment of microbrews, keep your eyes out for Dogfish Head Punkin Ale.

We were fortunate enough to catch some of the first pours of this fine seasonal at the Dogfish Head Brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, during our abbreviated vacation there in August. Amazingly, I have failed to make it to one of the coolest places in the northern Pittsburgh suburbs, 3 Sons Dogs and Suds, since the 3 Sons reported more than two weeks ago that they had Punkin’ Ale in stock. Who knows if it’s even still there!

Generally speaking, you can’t go wrong with any Dogfish Head offering. It is now a staple in our house.

Speaking of beer, probably in the first week of November, I’ll provide some recommendations on the best holiday beers. I hate to sound sacrilegious, but nothing says Christmas like a good holiday brew.

Finally, for the tree-huggers...

I came across this the other day via another food blog (I’d offer a “hatip,” but I can’t remember which blog it was. My apologies. Bad blogging etiquette!) and thought I’d pass it along.

It’s a resource offered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help make more environmentally conscious seafood choices. Overfishing is a huge problem, so I’m all for doing what it takes to keep good seafood available and affordable.

UPDATE: Since this post, I have made a trip to 3 Sons and they did have some Punkin Ale in stock. I picked up several 4-packs of Punkin Ale. It is fantastic!